Why does one of my basses sound much better than the other?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by smart51, Aug 3, 2021.

  1. smart51


    Dec 11, 2019
    I made two short scale basses earlier in the year, a 4 string and a 5. They are the same scale length, have the same pickups in the same positions, even have the same strings. The 4 sounds great. Bright, clear, with growl, and always good no matter how the pickups' volume controls are set. The 5 sounds muddy, even though there is clearly some treble present. It's OK with one pickup soloed but still not great. Yes, I've checked. The pickups are wired correctly.

    They're both 3 piece through necks with veneer stripes between the pieces. The 4 is made of Wenge, and the 5 from Sapele, but with a spalted beech top. The only other material difference - the 4 has a bone nut and steel bridge pieces on brass tail pieces. The 5 has a nut and bridge made from African Blackwood. Some might remember it from the headless tuners thread I did at the time.

    What is a likely cause of the muddyness? Sapele isn't a bad wood to build from. The 5 string neck is slightly wider of course. Could it be just down to the bone nut and steel bridges? Or have I just been unlucky somewhere with the build.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2021
    StyleOverShow likes this.
  2. RichterScale


    Feb 21, 2021
    I'd have to say that's most likely it.
  3. arbiterusa


    Sep 24, 2015
    Wood matters. You'll eventually learn to hear which cuts resonate and which do not.
    fishdreams, Means2nEnd, Afc70 and 3 others like this.
  4. Kelly robinson

    Kelly robinson

    Dec 30, 2014
    Interesting problem - I assume same string types between them ? If it was mine I'd try swapping in a bridge and nut of the same kind so they match completely - then see what you think . It is possible there is a difference in the pickups too between the 4 and 5 string versions even of the same manufacturer but that is beyond my pay grade ! Good luck though .... Kelly
    StyleOverShow and smart51 like this.
  5. GitmoMango


    Sep 5, 2019
    Just throwing this out there: let a few other players play them back to back with no upfront coaching. See what they say.

    Since you made them both, you’re definitely biased!
    Socobass likes this.
  6. I'm gonna point directly to that right there ^^^
    It's also a main reason why I chose wenge for the neck on my build. There's a tone I was looking for, and wenge usually helps deliver that growly tone. :cool:
    smart51 likes this.
  7. RichterScale


    Feb 21, 2021
    As hard as ebony or any other wood is, it's not as hard as bone or metal.
    The wood bridge and nut are absorbing some of the sting vibration and muffling them just enough to hear a difference.
  8. RichterScale


    Feb 21, 2021
    It doesn't have to be a bad thing though. You can try different strings, pups, active electronics until it sounds better to you (if you're not happy with it). I'm sure that bridge was a lotta work. Just assign that bass to jobs that require a slightly more mellow tone.
    smart51 and Bass4Brkfast like this.
  9. Chrisk-K


    Jan 20, 2010
    Scottsdale, AZ
    The 4 has a metal bridge whereas the 5 has a wood bridge.
    rojo412, Bassgeer, dkelley and 4 others like this.
  10. JW56789

    JW56789 Guest

    Feb 18, 2017
    I'm a firm believer from experience that particularly on 5's or 6's where you need that B-string to walk and talk, the harder and stiffer the better, and I would not use wood for bridges saddles or nuts on an electric bass.
    dkelley, 31HZ and Jefenator like this.
  11. Liam Wald

    Liam Wald Supporting Member

    May 17, 2011
    California Coast
    Some be born with mojo, some be born no so.
    Play ten new Fender USA Jazz Basses and two will be great, six will be okay and two will be dogs.
    Go figure!
    (Please, no offense to K-9's)
  12. clickclack


    Jan 20, 2018
    As said above, the bridge is suppressing. Being so close to pickups and picking area, it should be affecting tone more than anything else besides strings and pickups logically. Try a cheapo zinc bridge to test. It should sound better than the most beautiful wood in there looking not as good.
    I don't believe nut material affects as much. Partially because it's only about open strings. Having tried ABS, zinc and graphite, noticed very little difference, if not placebo.
    Mili and smart51 like this.
  13. Justinian


    May 7, 2015
    My 1980 Ibanez Roadster is still the best sounding bass I own, by far. Even after buying 6 this year, and now have 11.
    Mahogany, hi-mass bridge, and just solid as a rock!
    Edit: Meaning consistent output from note to note
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2021
  14. xn34


    Dec 17, 2020
    +1 on the nuts n bridges material. Physics, density.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2021
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  15. JeezyMcNuggles

    JeezyMcNuggles Supporting Member

    Feb 23, 2018
    Santa Maria, CA
    I suck, but nobody really notices
    The wood
    dkelley likes this.
  16. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    Maybe subconsciously you just don’t like 5 strings?
  17. Non sarcastically…when you say they are identical except for the body, top, bridge and nut…that is probably an indicator that those materials, regardless of what forums and YouTube may declare, actually make a difference in how the instrument sounds.
    dkelley likes this.
  18. A body of Wenge vs. Sapele and spalt, huge difference in density alone.
    Plus a 5 will usually require more wood.

    Every bass I've ever made sounds and feels completely different.
    There is the beauty of hand building.

    Oh yeah wooden bridge and nut, muddy, no surprise there.
    smart51 likes this.
  19. MultiScaleMale

    MultiScaleMale Columbia, MD Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2003
    The nut will only matter on the open strings. I assume you've verified the pickup height is the same?
    Lobster11 likes this.
  20. BAG


    May 5, 2014
    New Zealand

    Some good answers here. The only thing i'll add is something i've seen a few times here on TB.......

    Some trees just don't want to be basses.
    EatS1stBassist and xn34 like this.